Functional vs. Chronological Resume: Differences & Similarities
First job, next job, summer job, temp job. It doesn’t matter what kind of job you’re applying for. You’re going to need a resume.
While most people do not relish writing one (professional resume writers excluded), as a rule of thumb, resumes are relatively easy to create. Simply sum up your work history, right?
Well, that’s not exactly the case. A resume is more than an accounting of your jobs.
And, for those who have a gap in their employment history, you may not want to advertise that gap during the application stage. After all, you’re more than a series of jobs, and you want to demonstrate that to the employer. At the same time, you don’t want to be dishonest about your work history.
What are job seekers supposed to do?
Functional vs. Chronological Resume
At its core, a resume is a summary of your employment history, professional skills, and relevant experience.
But a resume is more than a summary of you. A resume helps recruiters size you up. It’s an easy and concise way for them to see at a glance if you’ve got what they want in a candidate. An interview will help determine if you’re the right fit for a job, but a well-written resume helps get you an interview.
Here’s a quick description of a standard, chronological resume and a functional resume. Learn what each entails, and then we’ll discuss how to determine which type of resume you should use.
When you use a chronological resume, you start at the top, then work your way down and backward. After your name, contact information, and optional summary, you list your work history, starting with your current or most recent job. For each job, you list where you worked, the dates you worked, your title, and all of your job duties. Working your way backward, you cover your employment history until you’re out of jobs (or space).
The key highlight of a functional resume vs chronological resume is that functional resumes are skills-based. Instead of starting with your current job and moving backward, a functional resume focuses on your skills and abilities, instead of your job history.
Generally, a functional resume starts with your name and then a summary of your achievements and accomplishments, similar to the summary statement on any resume.
After the general summary is the “skills” section. You create broad skills categories, then list specific examples of those skills. For example, you might have a “Sales” skill category with bullet points like, “Achieved salesperson of the month for nine straight months; Increased new sales to new clients by 15% year over year,” and so on.
At the bottom is your work history. However, unlike the chronological resume, on a functional resume, you only list the name of the company, your title, and your dates of employment. You do not list your job duties.
Note: A functional resume is not a CV. A CV (curriculum vitae) is similar to a functional resume in that the emphasis is on your achievements rather than your work history. However, a CV is more about awards you’ve won and papers you’ve published than your job history, though job history is often listed on a CV.
Pros and Cons of Different Resume Formats
Those are the basics of each resume style. However, you can’t just point to one and say, “I like it!” and start writing. Each resume format has pros and cons you should consider before committing.
Chronological Resume Pros and Cons
Chronological Resume Pros
There are several pros to using a chronological resume. For starters, it’s the most common and widely used resume. Recruiters are used to seeing it and this format makes it easy for them to scan your resume and see at a glance if you’re a good fit for the position.
Recruiters also feel that a chronological resume does a better job explaining your background and skills. Paring what you learned with where you learned it helps give your work history context. And, that context is what can help land you in the “interview” pile.
They are also the preferred format for applicant tracking systems (ATSs). While you should have a keyword-rich resume no matter what resume format you use, ATSs are usually programmed to look for certain headers and other criteria to scan your resume. This programming is generally based on a chronological resume. If you use something other than a chronological resume, an ATS may not see your keywords because it doesn’t know where to look.
Lastly, using a chronological resume may make it easier for you to update your resume or even write a resume from scratch. Much like a recruiter can see your skills in context on a chronological resume, you too may have an easier time remembering what you did at each job when you’re focusing on what you accomplished and where.
Chronological Resume Cons
The chronological resume does have disadvantages. The first is that a chronological resume makes employment gaps obvious. And, there’s no way to hide it. No matter what your reason is for dropping out of the workforce, some employers will see the gap and pass you over.
The chronological resume is also not the best resume template for people who are changing careers. Sure, you may have a lot of experience in accounting, but how does that help you as an aspiring supply chain director? It can be difficult to express why you’re changing careers and how you can transfer your skills on a chronological resume.
Functional Resume Pros and Cons
Functional Resume Pros
In some cases, a functional resume may be a better choice for you. The first advantage of this format is that if you have a large gap in your work history, a functional resume de-emphasizes that by putting the focus on your skills.
Functional resumes are also good for career changers because, again, this format de-emphasizes your work history. In a functional resume, you can talk about the relevant skills you’ve gained from an unrelated position. Or emphasize the new skills you’ve learned through volunteering, taking classes, or even just trying things out on your own.
Functional Resume Cons
However, before you craft a functional resume, you should know that they, too, have their disadvantages. Perhaps the most important con of a functional resume is that recruiters do not like them. Fair or not, when a recruiter sees a functional resume, they worry that you’re hiding something. While that may not be the case, that’s still a problem.
Also, when you’ve seen (or scanned) 20 chronological resumes in a row and number 21 is functional, it slows things down, and that can frustrate the recruiter.
And, as mentioned above, your skills are out of context to a recruiter. Instead of looking at your skills first, most recruiters are likely to drop down to your employment history first, to try to gain some context about who you are and why you’re applying for the job. If they can’t connect the dots from employment history to skills easily, they’re likely to put you in the reject pile.
A Better Option: Hybrid Resume
Consider using a hybrid resume in place of a functional resume (or even a chronological resume).
According to Betsy Andrews, Career Coach at FlexJobs, a hybrid resume “includes an achievements section, but also provides a bit of information under each position,” which helps gives context to your resume.
The top of a hybrid resume is a summary of your skills. However, instead of using broad categories, you pick a key skill and highlight it quickly with a brief sentence or two. For example, you might say, “Sales skills: Top salesperson for three straight quarters while increasing new business to new clients by 15% each year.”
After highlighting your top three or four skills, move on to your employment history using a chronological format. However, don’t list every bullet point from your job description. Instead, list the most relevant duties to help highlight your selected skills.
So, you might write, “XYZ company, New Business Sales, dates you were employed: Responsible for prospecting new leads through various methods. Streamlined client communications to help build and maintain relationships, thus increasing retention.” Repeat this until you’ve reached the beginning of your work history.
In this hybrid format, you are emphasizing your skills without de-emphasizing your work history. Yes, an employment gap will be visible, but it won’t be as important because you’ve front-loaded the resume with your relevant skills.
An Employment Story Worth Telling
Ultimately, a resume is the story of your work history, achievements, and skills. While it’s not a riveting beach read, a well-written resume can help you get an interview, which can lead to a job. Of course, like any story, a poorly written one will end up lost or forgotten about.
While you don’t want your story to read like everyone else’s, using a familiar format is important when you’re job searching. It may not be your first choice, but it can be your best choice. Don’t let flaws in your story scare you. There are plenty of resume templates that help you tell the best story possible to recruiters and can help highlight why you’re the best person for the job.
We’ve got more advice on how to improve your resume. And advice on how to craft an amazing cover letter so you can tell even more of your story. And, if you’re looking for a little bit of guidance along the way, consider working with our career coaches who can give you tons of personal resume writing advice.
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